Monday, April 14, 2003

Yo La Tengo keeps it low-key

But long-awaited rock was highlight

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

You'll find Yo La Tengo CDs located near Neil Young's in the bins at the record store. The reason is alphabetical, but there was a time when the connection ran deeper.

Yo La Tengo main man Ira Kaplan used to wring out the sort of feedback-laden melody from his electric guitar for which Young is known, and Kaplan would spend concerts dropping to his knees and wrestling with the guitar as if it were fighting back.

It's hard not to long for those good old days after catching the Hoboken, N.J., band at the Southgate House Friday night. The two-hour performance was dominated by the quieter and slower keyboard-fueled fare latter-day Yo La favors, but the rocking material remained the highlight.

The band, rounded out by James McNew and Kaplan's wife Georgia Hubley, concentrated on tracks from their new album Summer Sun, which was released April 8. The trio swapped instruments and positions on stage from song to song. By the end of the night, McNew had played drums, guitar, bass and keyboards.

Summer Sun songs they performed rode synthesizers and keyboards - not guitars - over such terrain as lightweight funk, Brazilian pop and post-modern surf, further positioning the band as America's answer to Stereolab. They're indie-rock Crazy Horse no more.

But those few moments when they did rock out allowed us to reminisce about the good old days.

And no time did they rock out better or put a stronger jolt through the sold-out room than the first of two encores, featuring the sound of electric guitars buzzing through a pair of covers. They dedicated the Hondells' "Little Honda," a staple of Yo La Tengo's live act, to the Ass Ponys.

Devo's "Gates of Steel" was sent out to two notorious landmarks on the area's rock 'n' roll map: Sudsy Malone's and the former Newport music club Top Hat. (Coincidentally, the band dedicated that same song to Dayton's Tim Taylor, the late Brainiac singer, at Yo La Tengo's Sudsy's show in 1997.)

They closed the set with a cover of Sun Ra's "Nuclear War," with McNew and Kaplan sing-rapping the call-and-response vocals. With Kaplan on keyboards, McNew and Hubley played drums and were joined on percussion by the opening band Portastatic, featuring Superchunk's Mac McCaughan.


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